John rubbed at his face, feeling drained and numb. The emergency room personnel had taken one look at Dean and immediately whisked his son away leaving him to fill out paperwork.
It felt like an eternity ago. And they'd yet to hear anything.
He let his gaze travel to his left to check on Sam. The ten year old had been strangely quiet and brooding. His posture was stiff, what he could see of his face blank. For the first time he noticed that his son had seated himself as far away from him as the bench would allow. It wasn't like him. "Sammy? You okay?" His son didn't move, didn't look at him, in no way acknowledging he'd even spoken. "Dean's going to be fine."
That earned him a momentary look he couldn't immediately interpret. Mostly because he'd never seen it on his son's face before – anger mixed with disbelief. It shocked his tired brain as if he'd put his finger in a light socket.
John continued to stare at his son, flabbergasted, not realizing for a moment that someone was talking to him.
"I'm sorry. Yes?" John stood up, turning his back on the anomaly his son had become not sure he could deal with it right then on top of everything else.
"I'm Doctor Cole. I've been treating your son, Dean."
John's gut clenched again. "How is he?" The doctor looked concerned but relaxed, his posture confident. Yet despite the telltale signs that things weren't too serious, John needed to hear him say the words.
"We think he had a bad bout of food poisoning. The diarrhea and vomiting from it led to dehydration. We've got him on an IV to get him rehydrated and medications to help with the first two. It was definitely a good thing you brought him to us when you did."
"So he's going to be okay?" Sam was suddenly at his elbow. The need and hope in the simple question made John look away, his eyes burning, knowing the feelings only too well.
"Hey there, little guy." The doctor scrunched down to Sam's eyelevel. "Are you Dean's brother?"
"Is he going to be okay?" There was a little more force behind the words this time, making it clear there was nothing more important than an answer to the question.
Cole gave him a wide smile. "Yeah, he's going to be all right. Dean's going to have to spend a day or two here so we can make sure everything goes back to what it needs to, but, yeah, he's going to be fine." He patted Sam on the shoulder.
John breathed out a soft sigh of relief.
"Can I see him?" This came out in the normal shy manner more typical of his youngest.
"You bet!" Cole stood back up. "You both can." Smiling, he led the way to Dean's room.
The moment the doctor cracked the door open and they could see the figure in the bed, Sam jumped forward into the room. "Dean!"
John stopped just inside the doorway. Cole let the door close, staying outside, giving them some privacy.
"Hey, Sammy." Dean lay nestled in stark white sheets, his left arm showing a tube snaking away to a metal stand with a half empty bag of fluid. The sunken look to his eyes was almost gone, only dark shadows showing he was still ill. There was even a little color in his cheeks, despite the sheets' and walls' efforts to diffuse it in their white blandness. Sam clung to the railing, just staring at his brother, tears in his eyes. Dean gave him a half smile.
John took a step forward.
Dean's gaze rose as if only now realizing they weren't alone. "Dad…" His face sobered. "I messed up." His lips trembled. "I'm so sorry…"
John felt embarrassed that his son could feel this bad over something he'd had no control over, but was heartened by it as well. It reaffirmed to him the fact he could trust Dean to keep Sammy safe. "It's not your fault. Just a lot of a bad luck all at once is all. It's all right."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sam glance at him with the same angry disbelieving look as before. It confused him. What was going on? "Samuel?"
His youngest ignored him.
"Is something wrong, son?" John came closer.
He noticed Dean glance from one to the other, perplexed.
John put his hand on Sam's shoulder only to have him shrug it away.
"What's wrong with you?"
The odd look turned into an outright glare. What had happened to his innocent chubby ten-year-old son?
"You wouldn't listen. You wouldn't!" His face scrunched up and turned red, as if his son were fighting to put together and vocalize everything churning inside him and couldn't. "And you thought Dean was bad. Dean wasn't bad, you were!"
"Sammy!" His eldest looked as shocked as John felt. "You, you shouldn't talk like that."
John could only stare at Sam, feeling suddenly out of balance, as if he were staring at a stranger rather than his own son. He grasped to say the first thing he thought of that might make sense. "Samuel, we're all tired, and your brother needs his rest. Let's you and me go back to the motel. We can talk about this there. We'll come visit Dean again later."
"No!" Sam ran around the bed, putting it between them, then leaned over it and wrapped his arms around Dean's legs. "I'm not leaving."
"Sammy!" Dean sat up with a panicked expression and stared at John. "Dad, he, he doesn't know what he's saying. He doesn't mean it!" Dean's was face flushed, his breath wheezing as it rushed in and out.
John made himself turn away from where Sam still clung to his brother's legs and quickly stepped up to Dean's side, trying to squelch the unreasonable stab of anger he felt at Sam's attitude. "It's all right. Calm yourself." He laid his hand on the boy's shoulder and unlike his youngest, Dean seemed comforted rather than insulted by the gesture. "Lay back. Rest. We're all exhausted. It's okay."
"I'm staying." Sam's tone was defiant, his voice loud, though no one had asked him anything.
John felt his eye twitch. He rubbed at his tired face, trying to buy some time to figure out he knew not what exactly. Maybe it would go away if he just left it alone. "Dean, is that alright with you?"
"Yeah, Dad…it's fine."
John heard the caution in his son's voice and wondered at it. Was he somehow losing them? Was he pushing things too far? Could he be hurting more than helping them? He rubbed at his face again. All he'd ever wanted to do was keep his children safe and close.
John nodded slowly and turned away, not sure he was ready to face these questions either. Mary would have known what to do. She would have known what to make of all this. How to fix it. His chest constricted, her loss feeling sharp and fresh as if it had happened only yesterday.
"I'll come back in a few hours." He made his way toward the door. Neither tried to stop him.
As John left the room and glanced back toward his sons, Sammy still with his arms wrapped tight about Dean's legs, his face hidden, Dean reaching forward to mess with Sam's hair, John had the horrible feeling that something important, somehow, had been broken that day. He'd let his sons down. He'd not done something Sam had expected and therefore disappointed him. He had the strange, doomed feeling that nothing would be the same between them again. And he hadn't the vaguest idea what to do about it.
Shaking his head. Telling himself he was just tired and imagining things, he let the door close behind him.
Reedited and resplit from 2007 on 8/2009